emorylogoWe have a daughter at Emory University, home of our country’s most advanced Ebola treatment epicenter. People ask us if we’re worried and frankly, we’re not. We’re not good with panic.

Teaching our children to remain calm, find the facts, and react correctly to changing developments are among a parents’ most important jobs. But we must also remain calm ourselves!

DFW TaxiI’ve mentioned a number of times that, as a father, I compare myself to a taxi driver guiding his children through life. In their early years, they ride in the back of my cab and I show them the best ways to get from place to place. They don’t’ have much input with regard to the route, but they’re certainly welcome to make observations and to discuss things we see along the way.

As the kids get older, they may chime in about traffic, and we can share some route-based decisions. I know that someday they will be driving their own vehicles, so I teach them to navigate while I’m still around as their safety net.

CautionSignEven though there are times when the cab is almost out of gas or the tires may burst, I avoid making them aware of those problems because it’s my job to make them comfortable enough to look out the windows and learn about the world.

As a parent, I always want my child to feel safe even if I’m a little worried (which is just about as much fear as I would show my children). I also know that the world is full of scary or dangerous things, some of which require everyday attention — like swimming pools, electricity, sharp edges, and plastic bags – while others are more conceptual (like disease, war, fire, and death).

Knowing that we’re not always around to offer reassurance, I believe we should give our children the following tools to comfort themselves:

  1. Be skeptical. Teach them not to believe everything that people tell them. Research the facts to avoid repeating dumb things. Ask your kids if they can give you an example of someone telling them something crazy that they knew was untrue. Tell them the story of Chicken Little.
  2. Know your source. Identify the people who like to spread news, especially bad news, and weigh the value of their information. Explain the concept of “drama” because most of what bothers tweens is drama – not substance. Teach them to avoid “bandwagoning” – becoming one of the dramatists.
  3. Pause to educate. Delay your reaction until you can find the facts. There are many places where information about the threat (or non-threat) of Ebola can be found. If your child asks, sit down at the computer with and find the facts.
  4. Remain calm. Teach them the dangers of panic. The world was full of smokers when I was young. One of them was a good friend who, while driving, lit a cigarette and accidentally dropped the match in his lap. His panic to find the ember and put it out was so extreme that he steered his car right off the road and into a tree. It was the panic that got him, not the match.
  5. Offer reassurance.. If something scares your child, use your strength and knowledge to teach away their fear. When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. My mother asked me if I wanted to stay afraid, or learn more about the dark. I wanted to learn more and, with my agreement, she told me to get in my closet and get comfortable. Once in the closet, she said “I’m going to close the door until there’s a sliver of light – will that be OK?” I meekly said “Yes.” And she closed the door to the sliver. She reminded me that I was safe, nothing had changed, and that there was nothing in the closet that could harm me. Then she asked if I thought I could sit in the closet with the door closed. “I guess so.” I said, and she closed the door the rest of the way. Once my eyes grew accustomed to the absolute darkness I could see that nothing had changed. There were no demons, and I was no longer afraid. My mom suggested that I just go to sleep… it would be a good way to kill some time if I was stuck in a dark place. Years later on a tour of Alcatraz, I was put in a solitary confinement cell for twenty minutes. Easy peasy. I took nap.

ignoranceinactionEbola is scary and it’s being talked about almost everywhere. When there’s danger, realistic precautions need to be taken. But there is a difference between teaching preparation for a tornado or an earthquake perhaps and worrying about a disease in a far off place.

My mother used to quote Goethe when she’d say, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

Remember, panic is more contagious than Ebola – and probably more harmful.  Do your kids a favor, teach them to stay calm and check the facts.

RegalDaisyFor a while my days were almost perfect. I could sleep wherever I wanted, wander the house at will and always find food in my bowl. I could daydream for hours while my masters talked or watched that glowing box.  It was peaceful, but there were trade-offs.  I didn’t get a lot of attention.  Sure, I got some nice rubs once in a while, but I was given a bath only once a month, the menu never changed, and I rarely went outside the walls of my perfect prison. For the most part, I lived the classic dog’s life.

Then “it” happened.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Was I too boring? Did they need a challenge? Maybe I ate too loudly. I just don’t get it. I thought I was being the perfect dog – and then they brought “it” home.

For years my human sibling, the Long Haired Boy, had been bugging my masters to “get a puppy.” He said, “It’ll keep Daisy young,” and stuff like that. Well, I’m not feeling particularly old. In fact, I’ve had a pretty good run so far. Hips are in order, eyes are working pretty well, ears have never been that great. So aside from the fact that I poop every four hours, which the vet says is fine, I’m showing very few signs of age.

On the other paw, my two-legged owners have changed quite a bit. The little one who smelled the best moved out over a year ago, and the Hairy Guy has been home quite a bit (but he’s not taking me on any walks or anything.) The Pretty Lady with brown eyes (like mine) still brings me my crack crackers, but she’s not taking me on walks either. Basically, we’ve been pretty lazy around here for the last year or so.

2CuteGirlsinCarOn the whole, hanging with the Lovebirds was fine with me – until they brought home the little idiot they call Delilah.

For the first few days, I wanted nothing to do with the intruder, but my humans were obsessed with her. “Blah blah blah blah Puppy. Blah blah blah blah Delilah.” They were giving me that “extra nice” treatment… but it’s kind of crazy watching them get so excited about the little ball of fur that doesn’t know anything except how to jump up into my face and try to bite my jinglers. Can I just get five minutes?

That puppy doesn’t know anything. She breaks all the rules. She pees in her bed, she chews on the chairs, she grabs paper towels. Worst of all, the minute she sees me she comes flying in my direction and tries to bite my ears.. Lately the little bitch (literally) has been showing me up. My human says “Sit” and she sits. What a tool.

GrowlyLookAfter a few days of total puppy avoidance, my Masters forced us to get together. They held The Energizer still and let me give her a good sniffing. Not too bad. Puppy smell; simple, clean, new, and a little vulnerable. The two-legged ones forced us to get to know each other and then we started playing. A few well-timed bites, a big growl or two, and now little D knows how it’s gonna work around here.

Sure, I let her lay in my bed. I let her bite my leg. I let her try to steal my snacks and my masters are really grateful for that.  The puppy’s so enthusiastic I have to cut her some slack. I’ve got the energy. We’re both taking vitamins now. I’m even getting brushed once in a while.  All in all, I think this might be a gain.

DaisyHoldsHerOwnMore good news! Suddenly everybody is paying attention to us dogs, and even though they’re mostly petting the fluffy younger one, they’re being pretty darned nice to me too. HE actually gave me a bath, which HE hasn’t done in about ten years. I get a ton of treats. I’m sore from the regular walks and that stupid puppy is actually getting me into shape.

I’m also getting a lot more personal attention. It’s like my two-leggeds don’t mind having me around any more. They see that The Energizer will do anything I do, so they’re counting on good ol’ me to set an example of how to behave. This older sibling thing could really score me some points.

Today they rode in the Windy Box to the Land of No Leashes. Every once in a while the Masters are kind enough to take Delilah there so that I can get some rest. In those lovely, quiet moments, I can lie anywhere I want and not have to worry about being jumped. It’s kind of funny though. I actually miss that little puppy when she’s gone.

DogTugofWarAt first I thought this growing family thing was going to be a bummer, but I was wrong. It’s good to have a new friend.

Gotta go now, the puppy’s getting in trouble and I like to watch.

NoseyThis puppy thing is a lot of work.  Just as with our children, we console ourselves by saying, “If we put the work in now, we’ll have less to do later.” But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of the required dedication at all.

Our friend Bruce summed it up when he said, “Puppies just don’t know any of the rules.” So, unlike Daisy, our tried and true eleven-year-old Golden, the puppy thinks everything is her business – the open dishwasher, my tool bag, any open drawer, and my underwear (which can still be found too often on the floor.)

MealtimeTogetherWe think Delilah is brilliant. By watching Daisy, she’s figured out the doggy door. She’s pretty much got the whole potty thing under control, and she has outsmarted our attempts to blockade her passage into other parts of the house. She’s wearing us down, fighting the war of attrition. Little does she know that we are united in our determination to teach her the rules and get our relationship off on the right paw.

As for the fetching….I remain concerned. I find that she loses interest in the ball after about four or five tosses. Up until a little while ago, we thought she was sixteen weeks old. That’s a point when she should be able to concentrate a bit. But today when we took the calendar off the wall, we determined that she’s only fourteen weeks old. That will allow me to cut her some ball-concentration slack for another couple of weeks. The Perfect Fetch will have to wait.

My big concern is that Daisy, a non-fetcher, has somehow propagandized her. “Is that all you want to do with your life…just chase that smelly ball for The Man?” Delilah seems to be thinking it over.

CraftsmanBagThis age miscalculation is a classic. We’ve been treating Delilah as though she should be farther along, and suddenly we find out that we are wrong. We had started some real training, we had eliminated her lunch, and we had serious bladder-holding expectations. On one hand, we’re relieved – she still seemed hungry at lunch time, she was a little “spacey” during the training sessions, and her bladder could have used the break. On the other hand, we just figured, “Man, are we boneheads!”

Having raised four kids, this is not the first time we made a fundamental error, and it probably won’t be the last. The important thing is that we’re not wasting time, energy, or emotion investigating the error and assigning blame. We’re just laughing it off and moving the enterprise forward – kind of similar to the time I accidentally locked our son in the car on a sweltering day.

LookinAtYouJoAnn’s internet adventures have migrated from shopping, “Candy Crush” or “Words with Friends” to “Doggy Discussions.” As a result, much of our discretionary conversation is devoted to things like “boundaries,” “meal time,” “doggy play,” and “socialization.” Some of the suggestions on these sites make sense – in which case we adopt them – and some seem a little overboard for us. We are not willing to enter the psychological arena with our dogs. From my point of view, they live in a binary world. Good is good and bad is bad, with no interpretation of feelings with regard to their behaviour. This keeps it simple for both me and them.

There has been a funny evolution in the friendship between Daisy and Delilah. When they are together, Delilah is often telling Daisy that she wants to play. She does this by jumping on Daisy, biting her ears, pulling her tail, and generally hassling the crap out of her. As a measure of her true brilliance, Daisy has chosen to remain upstairs, sometimes hidden in JoAnn’s closet, until very late in the morning. She’s no fool.

Meanwhile, JoAnn or I head downstairs before 7a.m. to let Delilah out of her crate and take advantage of the “alone time” to do some training. Sometimes, we’ll choose to take Delilah for a walk and she’ll whimper almost the whole time because she’s wondering where her walking mentor might be. The same goes for piling her in the car and going for an adventure (to Starbucks). She just keeps looking for Daisy.

OvertheShoulderWe think Delilah likes Daisy more than Daisy likes Delilah. But we are highly entertained, and even proud (which we find hysterical) when they play together like loving siblings. Every once in a while we achieve the perfect balance. Either the dogs play lovingly with each other or they lie in their respective corners of the kitchen. When these moments hit, we revel in our satisfaction and forget the fact that we are both “dog” tired.

Yes, we have hope for a peaceful, fetch-filled future.

Next up: Daisy weighs in.